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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Discord at digital divide talks
People using computers in Senegal
The UN sees technology as a development aid
Sharp divisions over how to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor have emerged ahead of a UN summit on the issue in December.

Delegates were unable to settle their differences after two weeks of talks in Geneva.

Many of the poorer countries want the richer nations to provide extra money to help more people get on the net.

Delegates are now due to meet again in Geneva in mid-November to try to iron out their differences.

Areas of conflict

The UN sees technology as a must for developing nations to help them educate citizens, make them healthier and escape poverty.

It has organised the World Summit on the Information Society, (WSIS), to come up with a global plan to ensure everyone has access to information and communications technologies.

We have a long way to go before success, but I think we have made progress
Marc Furrer, Swiss Federal Office of Communications
Heads of state from at least 50 countries are expected to attend the summit, which is due to be held in Geneva from 10 to 12 December.

But talks designed to come up with a plan of action have revealed big differences between the rich and poor countries.

For the past two weeks, delegates in Geneva have been trying to come up with a joint declaration that everyone could sign up to at the December summit.

"We found areas of conflict that we discussed, and now we can really see where the divergences lie and that is very important," said the Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications, Marc Furrer.

"We have a long way to go before success, but I think we have made progress," he told a news conference at the end of the preparatory meeting.

Their failure to agree has forced the UN to schedule another round of talks in six weeks' time.

Digital funds

One of the main sticking points was over who should pay for technology projects in the developing world.

African nations have been rallying behind a proposal from Senegal to set up a new "digital solidarity fund".

Many industrialised nations are wary of creating a new UN fund. Instead they favour encouraging investment by private companies and re-directing existing aid.

The other stumbling blocks that emerged are over the place of human rights in the final declaration and how the internet itself should be governed.

Western countries such as the US see freedom of expression as a key part of an information society. But this is a sensitive subject in many countries such as China, which has a different idea of what a free media means.

Concerns about human rights are shared by non-government groups, represented under the banner of Civil Society.

The grouping brings together a variety of trade unions, social movements and other lobby groups.

"If governments continue to exclude our principles, we will not lend legitimacy to the final official WSIS documents," said the Civil Society group in a statement.

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